Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Teaching Teachers

Teachers are often resistant to incorporating theoretical practices in their classrooms. Training for teachers is often carried out antithetically to the pedagogy teachers are supposed to practice (Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, 1999). However, it is my contention that the greatest barrier to teachers accepting and implementing new pedagogies is the interplay between the need for immediate problem solving and the lack of time for reflection on current practices.

Typically, teachers are asked to do a lot in a day: grading, attendance, IEP monitoring, communicating with parents, counselors, and administrators, cleaning, watching the halls, administrative duties, planning, copying, mentoring, coaching, organizing field trips, administering standardized tests, and usually- teaching. Teachers must adopt time management strategies to keep from being overwhelmed. Strategies involve prioritizing problems, and often solving them “just in time.” Teacher survival strategies often result in myopia that prohibits the reflection and thoughtfulness necessary to absorb and implement new techniques.

During in-services, and even in some courses in degree programs, teachers may be seen grading or filling out paperwork; trying to stay abreast of the continuous tidal flow of requirements from day to day. Teachers do not want to hear about innovative practices. Teachers are decidedly uncurious about what is going on in academia or even in colleagues’ classrooms. If Maslow’s hierarchy of needs were applied to teachers, it would be apparent that most are mired in safety or psychological survival, at least in a professional sense.

In order to bridge the gap between theory and practice, new pedagogies must be made meaningful to teachers in an immediate sense. In the same manner that constructivist theory dictates that students develop personal ways of acquiring information based upon the fulfillment of their own needs, teachers should be presented with information on an as needed basis; or at least taught new pedagogies in application to specific students and classes. Teachers can work cooperatively during in-services, grouping themselves by department or clusters of students. Cooperating teaching groups can determine their own priorities and search for solutions in the academic literature, or find knowledgeable individuals to train them in useful applications of theory.

I have been at too many in-service trainings and workshops where speakers lecture to a room full of teachers who are bored, tuned-out, or hostile to the presentation. The needs of teachers must be of paramount importance in addressing effective teacher training. Unfortunately, political agendas and budget restrictions will always keep teachers from working in an ideal classroom. There will always be too many students, too much administrative work, and too many requirements of accountability to allow teachers the luxury of reflection and creative thought that appreciation of academic theory requires. Theoreticians must bring new pedagogies to teachers in a meaningful, immediately relevant form if new research-based practices are to implemented.

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Available online:

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